Manchester United is putting together a sizzling streak. Unbeaten in all matches since firing former skipper José Mourinho in mid-December, the Red Devils conquered Arsenal 3-1 to move forward to the 5th Round of the FA Cup and are on a trajectory toward a Top 4 finish in the Premier League.
But right now, it’s the Champions League that is primary on supporters’ minds.
United faces a difficult path to the trophy following what was not the luckiest of draws. However, an injury to a key man for imminent Round-of-16 opponent Paris Saint-Germain may be just the sort of good break that the Premier League club needed.
MUFC will host PSG at Old Trafford in the UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 on Tuesday, February 12th in a match that begins a 3 PM EST. Tuesday’s fixture is only the first of 2 “legs” in the Round of 16, with another leg set for March 6th at Le Parc des Princes in the French capital. The combined goal-total of each club following the 2nd leg will decide the team to advance.
Bovada Sportsbook is offering virtually-even odds in all markets for the opening leg, with a pick’em goal spread and an O/U total of (3). The Draw market is a big fat (+265) on the 3-way moneyline.
As of mid-January, Paris Saint-Germain’s odds-to-win Ligue 1 were (-100000) according to Bovada. That meant that bettors were being asked to put down $1000 to accept a $1 payout if the Parisians sailed onward to a 7th title in 8 years.
No doubt PSG deserves to be an exorbitant favorite in France. Already enjoying a big lead in points in the French club league, the Paris squad can brag on combining recent World Cup hero Kylian Mbappé with Neymar and striker Edinson Cavani. The backline includes icons like Thiago Silva and fellow Seleção workhorse Dani Alves.
Paris Saint-Germain has also added the great Gianluigi Buffon to its lineup of goalkeepers.
Sure enough, though – the other shoe (or foot?) has fallen. Neymar is out for a long time, appearing on-camera in crutches after seriously hurting his right foot against Strasbourg in January.
Gianluigi Buffon is concerned that Neymar’s injury means his 24-year wait for a Champions League title could continue 😱 pic.twitter.com/2KVSeT9JZa
— Goal (@goal) February 3, 2019
And now the futures markets have vanished while other numbers have started jumping around. It no longer feels as likely that Paris Saint-Germain will dismantle Manchester United in the clubs’ UEFA war.
Ole is Okay
I’ve counseled cynicism when strong head coaches are dismissed in favor of popular good-time buddies. But the Red Devils are starting to make me think that the roster was badly underachieving before caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær came along.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 5, 2019
Paul Pogba has a smashing 6 goals and 4 assists in 9 starts since Mourinho’s exit, rivaling any of his luminous flashes of offense with Juventus before his current stint at MUFC. The Frenchman now has 20 goals in 82 appearances with United, compared to just 28 goals in 124 matches with Juve.
David de Gea seems to be finding his form between the posts. Marcus Rashford scored an early winner before a bewildered and dismayed crowd of Foxes supporters at King Power Stadium on Sunday.
Don’t forget Romelu Lukaku, who is still a fast and physical dynamo on the attack. With someone like Jesse Lingard to help keep the core of the lineup rock solid, it appears that United could be rounding into a complete club of superstars and role-players working in harmony. The squad is competent enough of winning cautious battles and goalkeeper’s duels, and is glad to parry and counterattack as in the FA Cup win over Arsenal.
However, the Red Devil backline still faces questions and depth problems. Just look at the starting center-backs against Leicester – Eric Bailly is still untried at 24 year old and Victor Lindelöf, while well-respected as a defender, has contributed just a single goal in 2 seasons with United. Left-back Luke Shaw took a yellow card against the Foxes.
Handicapping the Current Form of PSG and United
PSG lost to Ligue 1 opponent Lyon 2-1 on Sunday, the club’s first domestic league loss since dropping points in draws against Bordeaux and Strasbourg in early December.
Gianluigi Buffon did not play in goal, giving way to Alphonse Areola in the young lion’s 11th start of the 2018-19 season. But you would think that the superb Paris backline would have held up, particularly once veteran midfielder Ángel Di María scored in the 7th minute to give the favorites a 1-0 lead.
The heavy underdogs completed the match with 10 on-target shots compared to just 9 for the Parisians. Lyon striker Moussa Dembélé’s goal in the 33rd minute gave Lyon enough energy that carried throughout the final hour.
So it’s possible to come back and beat PSG, so long as there’s no Neymar to tack-on insurance tallies. That’s good to know. But it is still significant for the Red Devils to score goals and get ahead in the aggregate count before taking the pitch in Paris. That’s easier said than done considering the defenders lined up in opposition, who will likely comprise of Silva and Thomas Meunier.
United is the type of squad that can bust through any backline’s wall and at least earn penalties or free kicks around the box, where set-pieces can be deadly. But I’m not feeling MUFC’s aptitude to keep a clean sheet if leading 1-0 after a half.
It’s the Draw market (+225) which is far and away the best payoff on the 3-way moneyline (and even compared to most “adjusted” spreads) for Tuesday’s match.
It is also a fairly likely outcome.
PSG is likely pull back and play keep-away style with a ferocious backline and GK combination as its reserve. Visiting skipper Thomas Tuchel’s plan will likely be to beat United on home turf following a careful outing at Old Trafford. The Red Devils must watch against over-extending and leaving a still-developing crew of defenders to deal with the Parisians’ remaining attack force.
While United will do everything it can win, the upcoming leg is likely to serve as a low-key preview of the ultimate showdown in the City of Lights next month.
Pick the Draw market (+265) at Bovada Sportsbook.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.